Acity with a Russian history,” proclaim billboards across the Ukrainian city of Kherson, occupied by the Russian army since the first days of March. Others display the Russian flag, or quotes from Vladimir Putin.

Over the past five months, Moscow has appointed an occupation administration to run the Kherson region and ordered schools to teach the Russian curriculum. Local people are encouraged to apply for Russian passports to access pensions and other benefits.

The next stage of the Kremlin’s plan is a referendum, to add a dubious sense of legality to these facts on the ground, and create a pretext for bringing Kherson and other occupied parts of southern Ukraine into Russia, using an updated version of the 2014 Crimea playbook.